The Green Bay Packers are exploring the possibility of making a massive offseason play for one of the top linebackers on the free-agent market.
According to Packers News insiders Tom Silverstein and Jim Owczarski, multiple agents tracking the market have said the Packers are looking into what it would take to sign Cleveland Browns star inside linebacker Joe Schobert as a replacement for current starter Blake Martinez next season.
The Packers are not necessarily looking to move on from Martinez, the NFL’s second-leading tackler in 2019, but his impending free agency gives them an opportunity to assess the market and determine whether a change in direction could address their deficiencies at the position last season.
Schobert missed just seven defensive snaps all season for the Browns in 2019 and finished with a team-high 133 tackles, but the 26-year-old linebacker was as much an on-ball playmaker as he was a tackling machine with four interceptions, nine passes defended, and seven tackles for loss — all of which were career-highs. He also tallied two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
By comparison, Martinez has just three interceptions and two forced fumbles throughout his entire four-year career.
Cost figures to be an important piece in the equation, as agents also indicated via Packers News. Martinez and Schobert are both reportedly seeking new contracts worth at least $10 million per season, while the Packers are looking to pay less for a new linebacker — “potentially in the $8 million-per-year range, depending on the structure of the deal.”
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Schobert Would Upgrade Packers Pass Defense
Martinez was certainly a centerpiece for the Packers defense in 2019, but it wasn’t always for the best. Never was that more clear than in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, where Martinez was nonexistent against the pass and evidently lacked the athleticism to get the job done. He also gets a bad reputation for his tackles coming too far downfield, but some situations have been held too unfairly against him.
Nevertheless, it would be hard to argue Schobert wouldn’t be an improvement for the Packers. He is far sharper in the passing game, allowing just 38 of 55 passes (69.1%) thrown his way to be completed last season with an average of 6.5 yards per target, according to Pro Football Reference figures. Martinez’s numbers were reasonably worse with opposing passers completing 62 of 74 passes (83.8%) against the Packers signal-caller for an average of 9.2 yards per attempt.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst offered some optimism for most of his inside linebackers when speaking with reporters Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but he didn’t seem sold on Martinez having a future with the team.
“It’s a little bit of an evolving room right now,” Gutekunst said, “but I feel really good about Oren (Burks). He’s got to stay healthy, but I think he has all the talent in the world to be a productive player for us. I thought Ty Summers did a really, really nice job for us, not only on special teams, but how he developed as a linebacker as well. And Curtis (Bolton), obviously, he had the knee injury, so we didn’t really get a big opportunity to see him, but early on in training camp he was making some big strides. So I’m excited about those guys, but with Blake’s situation uncertain at the moment, it’s a little bit in flux as we’re going forward.”
The start of NFL free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 18, but teams can begin contract negotiations with players’ agents as early as March 16.